Ensuring a smooth ‘back to business’ for retail employees
With non-essential retailers open and the majority having ironed out any initial challenges with the reintroduction, it’s essential that attentions are now turned towards focusing on their most important assets – their people – and place them front and centre of their future plans.
The pandemic has exacerbated a number of workforce-related challenges, and in order to adapt to the new normal of retail, the following aspects must be considered to protect margins, retain an engaged workforce, and control compliance.
Reintroducing and reengaging employees
Many employees in the retail space have faced furlough over the last year, resulting in major disruption to their lives, schedules, and expectations of work due to the pandemic. As we return to some sort of normality, some may still be caring for an elderly family member, juggling childcare and unpredictable schooling, or have lost a spouse or loved one during this time.
It is therefore imperative that employees have access to the right tools and processes to enable them to work efficiently during the months ahead. This goes far beyond physical safety and practical scheduling. Managers must recognise individual personal circumstances and act accordingly.
In order to facilitate this, trust should rise to the top as a foundational imperative. Great businesses are powered by great people, and great people have choices of where to work. Our research shows that nearly two-thirds (60%) of U.K. employees say trust has a direct impact on their sense of belonging at work, and that 70% of employees globally say their relationship with their manager is an extremely or very important factor when deciding to remain at their organisation. Managers must therefore form meaningful connections with their employees and be intentional in their conversations to identify individual needs and understand long-term goals of each employee.
Accurately forecasting and scheduling
Forecasting demand and therefore accurately scheduling was a challenge for some retailers pre-pandemic. Add to this the fact that some people are more eager than ever to get out and enjoy in-person experiences, while some are still anxious about limiting their contact with others, and it becomes more of a challenge than ever before. While there was an initial spike in footfall after the reopening on 12th April, this has dipped slightly since, and it’s difficult to predict whether this will now remain steady or if we’ll see another spike – perhaps in line with weather changes, as is typical of the high street and other bricks and mortar settings.
Social distancing and hygiene protocols will of course still remain in place for some time, which also adds an extra challenge to forecasting and scheduling, as these can no longer be based solely on customer demand, but now need to consider safe store occupancy based on distancing rules and required cleanliness practices. Though there is an uptick in vaccine administration, employee sickness is still a factor to be considered.
Modern workforce management technology can assist with scheduling to automatically balance staffing plans with volume, demand, and other variable trends, and identify the right set of people who are available for work based on scheduling preferences, real-time availability, and skill requirements. With this technology, organisations are able to carefully plan employee schedules to optimise resources and minimise the impact of a shrunken workforce or fragmented availability on productivity or service levels.
The requirement of contact tracing
With a third wave of COVID-19 sweeping across Europe, the threat of infection is still very real. When or if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, it’s vital to immediately begin the process of contact tracing.
With a workforce management system that analyses time and attendance data, employees that worked the same time and location as an afflicted employee can be efficiently identified. Automating what would otherwise be a manual process will allow employers to immediately remove potential contacts from the schedule to reduce risk of an outbreak across their workforce.
The road ahead for retailers will certainly present challenges, but there are also a wide range of opportunities to take advantage of. However, retailers will only be in a strong position to take advantage of these opportunities if they maintain a healthy, motivated, and engaged workforce. Employees are what enable retailers to be great, so having a strong strategy in place – supported with the right tools – will enable them to thrive into the months ahead.
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